Kashmiryat in Kashmiri surnames

By Rajesh Bhat, TwoCircles.net

Ever heard a Hindu by the surname Peer, Wali or Khan? Or imagine a Muslim carrying his last name as Rishi or Pandit…… Sounds incredible but it is a common feature in Kashmir, where unlike in other parts of the country, Muslims and Hindus have been sharing the same surnames since ages.

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The present Chairman of J&K Public Service Commission is Mohd Shaffi Pandit—a devout Muslim but Pandit by surname! Similarly, prior to militancy, Ghulam Geelani Pandit had served as J&K Director General of Police— a Muslim but Pandit by surname! And we have a renowned Professor— Maharaj Krishan Peer and eminent doctor Vijay Wali— both Kashmiri Hindus but holding Peer and Wali as their his surnames!

Similarly, Mirza, Dhar or Dar, Bhat, Kaul, Akhoon, Chakoo, Durrani, Kachroo, Draboo, Kaloo, Kanna, Kaw, Khar, Khuda, Kitchloo, Munshi, Machama,Mirza, Padar, Parimoo and Raina are a few typical surnames that are used by both Hindus, and Muslims of Kashmir!

Pirs, Sadhus, Rishis, Walis and Sahibs are some other typical Kashmiri surnames having religious connotation. Sahib is an honorific. Some elderly Pandit who had attained highest stage of spiritual perfection or was well-versed in the religious scripture was out of reverence called as Sahib. Pir Pandit Padshah, during the reign of Shah Jahan, has been a famous saint of Kashmir. His miracles and spiritual attainments brought many people from different walks of life, under his banner. His disciples, both Hindus and Muslims are still known as Pir.

Interestingly, William Shakespeare’s popular quotation “what is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”…… may or may not hold good beyond his tragic play of Romeo and Juliet, but Kashmiris have proved this great dramatist of English literature wrong when it comes to the origin and existence of their surnames!

For any Kashmiri–be a Hindu or a Muslim — his surname has more relevance than his first name. It is this surname that is Kashmiris’ identity. It recalls him of his history, origin, roots and the profession of his fore-fathers. It reminds any Kashmiri how witty and humorous his forefathers were. It is this surname that is Kashmiris’ brand-name —-the USP. And to say in a Shakespearian way to a Kashmiri that “what is in a name” is almost challenging his existence! It is here, where Kashmiris have proved Shakespeare wrong!

Ask any Kashmiri about the genesis of his surname. See and find: It will be linked with his forefathers, their profession, place of residence etc that traces down his origin. Interestingly, most of the Kashmiri surnames are based on nicknames, identifying the community with birds, animals, vegetables, fruits or the menial or esthetic jobs their forefathers were doing during Pathan or Sikh rule. And most of these surnames are shared by both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims with pride and at times making it too difficult for a non-Kashmiri to identify Kashmiri’s religion on the basis of his caste. Their lies the Kashmiryat in Kashmiri surnames and unlike Shakespeare’s quotation, everything is in their name.

Love of nicknames is mixed in the blood of Kashmiris. They have nurtured this art for generations together. They give it without asking for and make full use of ordinary events, actions, habits and even physical feature of persons to coin new and newer nicknames, that later become surnames and even entered in the revenue records!

Pandit Anand Koul, a great Kashmiri historian has quoted a classical example of resistance shown against a nickname by a poor Kashmiri whose name was ‘Vasadev’. He had a mulberry tree in his courtyard, and was, therefore, called Vasadev Tul. `Tul’ being the Kashmiri name of mulberry. In order to get rid of this nickname he cut down the mulberry tree. But a `Mond’ (trunk) remained and he was called, ‘ Vasadev Mond’. Irritated Pandit immediately removed the trunk; and a `Khud’ (depression) was caused and henceforth he was known as ‘Vasadev Khud’. Continuing his battle against nickname givers, he got the depression filled up and the ground became a `Teng’ (a little elevated). Thus he was re-nicknamed as ‘Vasadev Teng’. He had, however, to give in before the limitless arrows in the quiver of nickname givers and accepted gracefully his latest nickname, which has become a family name of his progeny.

And in the present times, surnames like Tul, Khud, and Teng are still in vogue, with certain amendments in the spellings. We have a present Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Kuldeep Khuda and former Secretary of J&K academy of Art, Culture and Languages, M Y Teng holding and carrying their surnames Khuda ( depressed land) and Teng , the elevated land, with pride and honour.

Apart from nicknames that have later become the surnames, most of the present day Kashmiri surnames are linked to the profession or occupation of their forefathers. Aram (vegetable grower), Kral (potter), Gooru (Milk seller), Hakim (physician), Waza (cook), Bazaz (Cloth Merchant) etc are some of the surnames that tell about the past profession of the present generation of Kashmiris.

Surnames like Hangloo ( Stag), Khar ( Ass), Braroo ( Cat), Kantroo ( male sparrow) ,Kakroo ( Cock), Kaw (Crow), Bambroo ( black bee), Kotru (Pigeon), Dand (Bull), Hoon ( Dog), Yechh (Yeti), Kukiloo ( Koel) are few surnames that belong to the animal kingdom. These surnames have been attached to a Kashmiri because of the appearance of any of their ancestors in past with any animal or a bird and hence the surname. Great personalities like former Senior bureaucrat M K Kaw or former Resident Editor of Statesman, M L Kotru are to name the present day Kashmiris whose young ones still carry `Crow’ or `pigeon’ like surnames as their identity!

It is not only the animal kingdom but Kashmiri surnames are linked with the vegetables and fruits as well. We have number of Mujoos (Radish), Bamchoots (Quince) Hakh (Long Green leaf vegetable) in our society even during the present days.

There are number of Kashmiri surnames that are based on individual’s moods the forefathers of the particular family must had nourished or lived with. Hakhoo in Kashmiri means a person who is dry, whileas Trakroo means who is very hot temperament or very hard. These nick-names are still in vogue as surnames and have become the part and parcel of those descendents whose forefathers in earlier times had acted either like a dry man or had remained hard nuts to crack!

So next time when you meet a Kashmiri—- ask him—- what is in his surname—- and if called by other name ……….? You will definitely find a humorous play or an interesting story linked to every Kashmiri surname which Shakespeare could not enact in his tragic play of Romeo and Juliet !